Tom Thumb CotoneasterCotoneaster apiculatus 'Little Gem'
View more from Groundcover Plants
30 day - ARRIVE AND THRIVE™ guaranteeLearn more
Probiotic Root Stimulant
Cotoneaster apiculatus 'Little Gem'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Tom Thumb Cotoneaster is a charming ground-cover plant, which becomes a low, broad shrub, reaching 3 to 6 feet across, but staying less than a foot tall. It forms a mound of arching branches, each one densely covered with tiny green leaves, which color bright red in the fall. Pinkish-red flowers open all along the branches in spring, and sometimes there are red berries in the fall. This is an ideal plant for covering slopes, where it stabilizes the soil, and for growing among boulders, rocks, and in a rock-garden. It is also perfect for the foreground of shrub beds, where it will cover the soil and transition the planting onto a hard surface, like a driveway or terrace. It will also spill beautifully over walls.
Plant the Tom Thumb Cotoneaster in full sun or with no more than a few hours of shade each day. It grows best in well-drained, poorer soils, which will give the most compact and densest growth. It needs no trimming, so plant it with enough room for later growth, so that trimming is not necessary. Be especially careful when edging a bed that meets a lawn, as it will be hard to trim so that it doesn’t spill over the grass – hard surfaces are much better, and they will be beautifully softened by this plant. Pests and diseases are very uncommon, and rabbits normally leave it alone.
Good gardens include plants of all shapes and sizes, including small and low-growing shrubs that will cover the ground, soften hard surfaces, and create interest in the front of beds. When it comes to choosing something low and spreading, with tons of character and charm, you can’t overlook the wonderful Tom Thumb Cotoneaster. This low, broad mound of arching branches, clothed in tiny leaves, and with white flowers and red berries sometimes too, will really win you over, and become a reliable and easy part of your garden.
The Tom Thumb Cotoneaster is a low, spreading shrub, with many thin stems growing from longer branches that arch out and reach across the ground. It never grows above 12 inches tall, but it will spread to cover an area 3 or 4 feet across, eventually even covering 6 feet from a single plant. It forms a beautiful tight mound of branches, with a natural compact habit that needs no trimming or pruning. The main branches can be an inch thick in time, with a slightly shiny, dark-brown bark. All along these branches thinner stems sprout out, in a ‘fish-bone’ pattern, and these carry tiny oval leaves, no more than ½ inch long, with a slightly wavy edge. These are covered in fine hairs when young, and they become glossy as they mature. The leaves are tightly packed along the stems, creating a dense plant. In some springs small, five-petaled flowers open all along the stems. These are pinkish-red, and they add a charming touch to the plant. Red berries may occasionally be seen in late summer, following flowering. In fall the leaves turn bright red, adding interest to that season, and the skeleton of bare branches is attractive in winter too.
Grow the Tom Thumb Cotoneaster on slopes and rough ground, where it will grow up against, and over, boulders and stones in a graceful way. Cascading down a slope it looks charming, and its stems reduce soil erosion. This plant is essential in every rock-garden, for its low growth and charming habit. Plant it at the top of a wall to grow down and soften the hard profile. Use it alone or in groups as the foreground of a larger bed, to make the transition from taller shrubs to a path, driveway or terrace. For something different, plant it at the foot of a wall and grow it upwards, attaching it as necessary, for a lovely effect. Each plant covers a large area in time, so it is an excellent ground-cover for open spaces.
The Tom Thumb Cotoneaster grows well into zone 5, and in zones 8 and 9 it will appreciate a few hours of shade in the hottest parts of the day and a little more water.
The Tom Thumb Cotoneaster should be grown in full sun or locations with only a few hours of shade each day. It does best in open, sunny areas. It will grow in any ordinary, well-drained soil, thriving in poorer soils, and tolerated dryness well once it is established.
This plant has few serious pests or diseases, and it is easy to grow. Even rabbits do not bother it. Allow enough room for its natural spread when planting, as it is tricky to prune this plant, and keep its attractive natural form and graceful arching branches. Plant three feet apart for groups and ground-cover.
The Tom Thumb Cotoneaster is probably a selected form of the creeping cotoneaster, Cotoneaster adpressus. There are many different cotoneaster plants, from small trees to low spreaders, and this is one of the very best of the ground-cover forms. It grows wild in western China, and it was introduced into Europe in 1895, coming to America during the 20th century. A form called ‘Little Gem’ is a more compact, neater version of the plant, which was found sometime before 1946 growing at the K. Verboom Nursery in Boskoop, Holland. It was probably brought over to America after World War II, when there was a big increase in the trans-Atlantic plant trade. At some point, Americans began to call this plant “Tom Thumb”, and that name stuck, so we usually today call this the Tom Thumb Cotoneaster. There is also some disagreement about the exact species it should be placed in, with some authorities placing it in the similar Cotoneaster apiculatus, or even as a form of the more well-known Cotoneaster horizontalis. Wherever it belongs for botanists, for us it belongs in the garden.
This valuable ground-cover plant is always in high demand, and the many years it has been around tell us how reliable and valuable it is in every garden. Our stock is limited, so order now, while supplies last.